London Broncos season preview 2012

By Ian RamsdaleBBC London 94.9
Rob Powell's London Broncos unveil their new all-black strip at The Stoop

There's an all new look to London's top rugby league side for 2012 - but will the fans' delight at the return of the Broncos' name be matched by the achievements of a new-look playing roster?

For the first time in a few years, the London franchise are spending up towards the top end of the salary cap.

Owner David Hughes, the club's only financial source, hasn't done this for fun - he wants to win things.

He's brought in some rather eye-catching overseas names, namely stand-off Craig Gower, utility back Michael Robertson and second-row Shane Rodney - all three who've won NRL Grand Finals, the latter two just last year with Manly.

The mix-up over the eligibility of Jarrad Hickey has somewhat overshadowed what had been a fairly positive winter for London's rugby league fans, with Mark Bryant and Michael Witt helping pack out the squad after joining from Crusaders.

But Rob Powell is keen to avoid making any comparisons with last season.

A blistering start saw Harlequins top the table after four wins, including the two teams destined to contest the Grand Final, Leeds and St Helens, in their first five games. But then a huge 82-6 defeat at Warrington set the tone for the rest of the league season, over which the side picked up only five more points.

But Powell made a rare reference to 2011 after the Capital Challenge pre-season friendly against London Skolars when he admitted: "The squad we had last year hit their peak in the early rounds.

"The difference this year is that I've got a more talented and experienced side which will grow and develop as the season goes on."

A couple of things that the capital's side have lacked in recent years are strength in depth and bulk.

The new signings seem to have added the depth, and bulk comes from Antonio Kaufusi. You'll not miss him. A quick running, nimble prop, described as "like watching an oversized teenager playing under-15s, as people just hang off him".

And players continue to drop off the London club's production line, which has already manufactured names like Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Tony Clubb.

Last year saw the emergence of Olsi Krasniqi. It seems imperative that, in all journalistic articles about him, it is pointed out that he is the son of an Albanian wrestler.

Having made 13 Super League appearances last year, he has been picked by many as one to watch in 2012, unsurprisingly so.

But also keep an eye out for Keiran Dixon, a small, muscular, and very talented full-back who has come through the ranks at Hemel Stags. He is the man, well, lad, everyone's talking about. The club must know he's on to big things as they've been giving him media training. He may not play too many games this year but, when he does, you'll certainly know about it.

For a few years now, London league fans have had to cling onto the hope that the talent will come through - as there's been little other positivity to grasp. No play-offs since the last Broncos season in 2005.

Without doubt, the reversion back to the old name brings back good memories. Be prepared for many mentions of the 1999 Challenge Cup run this year when the competition gets back under way. I wouldn't bet against a good run in the competition this year. It's something they're definitely capable of.

Let's not forget too, that Powell, the youngest coach in Super League, is entering only his second season in the top job. It's crunch time for him as well. Whether he's got the squad to challenge the top few teams consistently is probably an unrealistic aim, but they must win more than they lose and make the top eight to justify the extra money that's being spent.

If they don't, that simply won't be good enough for the owner.

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